Page last updated at 23:19 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

MP raid police 'had no warrant'

Speaker Michael Martin: 'I was not told that the police did not have a warrant'

Commons Speaker Michael Martin has said he regrets that police were allowed to search Tory MP Damian Green's office with no warrant during a leak inquiry.

He said he regretted a parliamentary aide had allowed the raid - by signing a consent form without consulting him.

The Speaker agreed to a debate on the issue but pressure on him is growing.

Asked if she had confidence in the Speaker, Commons Leader Harriet Harman said: "I am not saying I have got full confidence in anything or anybody."

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, Ms Harman said it was her responsibility to support the Speaker and his officials, and to uphold key principles such as protecting the rights of MPs to conduct their business without unwarranted interference.

But asked whether the Speaker had her full confidence, she replied: "I am not saying I have got full confidence in anything or anybody."

She later denied she had said she had no confidence in Mr Martin, adding "It's not a question, there is no vote of confidence in the Speaker."

My responsibility

Mr Martin told MPs he knew in advance about the search of Mr Green's office but was not told that the police did not have a warrant.

He has referred this issue to be investigated by a committee of senior MPs and promised that, in future, a warrant would be required before searches were carried out on Commons property.

"Every case must be referred for my personal decision, as it is my responsibility," he added.

But one Conservative MP said the Speaker should resign, given that he had "failed in his fundamental duty to protect Parliament".

"I have no confidence in the Speaker's willingness or ability to defend Parliament or me as an MP, so that I can defend the interests of my constituents," Richard Bacon said.

"He has to go. It is that simple."

The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson said confidence in the Speaker's authority in the Commons had taken a "very severe knock".

Conservative home affairs spokesman Dominic Grieve told Newsnight he had "confidence in the Speaker's good intentions" but described the current situation as a "fiasco".

But he said the Speaker should be not be forced out, saying the focus should be on "putting right what has been done wrong" and reasserting the rights of Parliament.

Items including computer files were confiscated during raids on all Mr Green's homes and offices last Thursday.

After the news broke last week that four addresses had been raided, Scotland Yard said it had had warrants for all of them.

You cannot pick and choose whether you support the operational independence of the police
Prime Minister Gordon Brown

But, shortly before the Speaker's statement, acting Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson revised the detail, saying just three warrants had been issued, while the Commons search had been "consensual".

When asked about this, a Scotland Yard spokesman said there had been "no deliberate attempt to mislead".

A separate police source added that if the official who signed the consent form for the raid - Serjeant at Arms Jill Pay - had not known police could be refused permission to enter, it would be "surprising".

Mr Green, shadow immigration minister, was arrested and held for nine hours last Thursday as part of a police inquiry into Home Office leaks.

'Bad day for democracy'

Many MPs have expressed outrage, saying that their independence has been compromised.

Raising a point of order after the Speaker's statement, Mr Green told the Commons it would be a "bad day for democracy in this country" if MPs could not expose information that ministers preferred to keep hidden.

He added: "Those who have the real power in this country - ministers, senior civil servants and the police - are also not beyond the law and beyond scrutiny.

Damian Green: 'I believe MPs are not above the law'

"An MP endangering national security would be a disgrace. An MP exposing embarrassing facts about Home Office policy which ministers are hiding is doing a job in the public interest."

Mr Green was held on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and on suspicion of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office.

It has been alleged that, during his police interview, Mr Green was accused of "grooming" his Home Office source, rather than simply receiving leaks.

The MP denies any wrongdoing.

Phone call

In his statement, the Speaker said the Metropolitan Police had told the Serjeant at Arms last Wednesday that they were contemplating arresting an MP but had not given his identity.

Mr Martin said she had told him in the strictest confidence that an MP might be held and charged but no further details had been given.

At 7am on Thursday, the police called the Serjeant at Arms again, explained the background to the case and named Mr Green.

People want to know whether our democracy, our right to know and our right to expose are safe with this prime minister
David Cameron, Conservative leader

She then informed the Speaker of this and said a search of the MP's Commons office might take place.

Mr Green was arrested that afternoon.

But Mr Martin said: "I was not told that the police did not have a warrant [for the Commons search]."

He added that the police had not explained, as they should have done, that the Serjeant at Arms was not obliged to consent to the search - or that a warrant should have been insisted upon.

"I regret that a consent form was then signed by the Serjeant at Arms without consulting the clerk of the House," Mr Martin said.

"I must make it clear to the House that I was not asked the question of whether consent should be given or whether a warrant should have been insisted on," he said.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who has said she had no prior knowledge of Mr Green's arrest, is due to give a full statement on the affair on Thursday.

'No good'

Ms Smith, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have said it would be improper for ministers to become involved in police investigations.

In the Commons, Conservative leader David Cameron said: "It's no good for the prime minister to hide behind 'I was only supporting the independence of the police'.

"People want to know whether our democracy, our right to know and our right to expose are safe with this prime minister."

Mr Brown said: "You cannot pick and choose whether you support the operational independence of the police. You either support it or you do not support it."

He added that he was not going to comment on an ongoing police inquiry.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said events such as Mr Green's arrest would make Parliament "increasingly feeble".



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